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Author Topic: LIGHT GIRLS, WHEN DOCUMENTARIES GET IT WRONG(review of documentary"Light Girls")  (Read 9342 times)
Iniko Ujaama
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« on: January 21, 2015, 04:58:11 PM »

LIGHT GIRLS, WHEN DOCUMENTARIES GET IT WRONG by Jessica Ann Mitchell



“If you love yourself, don’t watch Light Girls.”

This is what I told a dear friend of mine after watching the documentary. The film was a sequel to Dark Girls, a documentary about colorism in the African American community. Light Girls was supposed to show the other side of the coin and share the views of women that society labels as “light skinned.” Instead, it turned into a living rendition of  light skin vs. dark skin battles paralleling the epic scenes from, School Daze. Why the disdain? There isn’t enough time to cover everything but here are my top sources of contention with Light Girls.

1. The Denial of Light Skin Privilege

Light Girls perpetuated the stereotype that dark skinned girls are jealous, angry and violent. Rarely was there any nuanced or guided discourse behind light skin privilege. In fact, the topic was carefully avoided. If not for Soledad O’Brien’s brief acknowledgement that her color helped her career, one would think that light skin privilege is a figment of evil dark skinned imagination.

This is mostly because a discussion surrounding white privilege was painfully absent from most commentary. Light skin privilege exists as a subsidiary of white privilege. This is not a concept made up out of simple jealously. We cannot discuss one without the other. Light skin privilege is when people with skin color closer to what is associated with phenotypically “white features” are granted certain privileges relative to superiority over darker skinned people.

Consequently, light skinned women get lighter jail sentences, are more likely to get hired for a job, and are even disciplined differently as children. These are just a few examples backed up by data.

Understand that acknowledging light skin privilege is not about finger pointing. It’s about understanding racial hierarchies determined by structures of white superiority and the role that it plays in Black lives.

If we deny the existence of light skin privilege, we deny the existence of white privilege.

2. Black Men are not the gate keepers of Black women’s value

The documentary spent an agonizing amount of time featuring the scattered thoughts of random Black men, as if Black male scholars were unavailable. Dr. Steve Perry was very much alone in his contribution to the discussion. There were so many cringeworthy moments where men discussed their color “preferences” like a bunch of drooling 8th graders. I thought to myself, “Are we in middle school?” Along this line, the film completely ignored the possibility of Black women in same-sex relationships. The film placed the value of Black women on heterosexual, patriarchal male gaze. One commentator even exalted the faulty belief that dark skinned Black women are better than light skinned women because, they will do more for you. This type of unchallenged thinking reaffirms stereotypes of darker skinned Black women being built for work and lighter skinned women existing solely for the purpose of being a trophy.

3. The assertion that light skinned girls are molested or raped more than dark skinned girls is disturbing

Two commentators in the film recalled being molested and raped. One of them even boldly stated that light skinned girls are a prime choice for pedophiles. My mouth dropped open. “Is this really happening?” The film just continued onto the next topic.

To leave such an assertion unchallenged or glossed over is grossly irresponsible. Not to discredit her personal experiences, but that assertion deserved a very nuanced follow up discussion.  No way should this have been included without expert analysis. It was cruel and damaging to the film participants and audience.

Yes, pedophiles have varying preferences. They often take advantage of the more vulnerable segments of society. Yes, light skinned girls get raped, molested and sexually trafficked. However, because dark skinned girls are often less championed for, dark skin is often a determinate in sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

Society’s refusal to protect dark skinned girls is what lead to Toni Morrision’s decision to create the character Pecola Breedlove. Pecola who was both sexually abused and ignored, continually prayed for blue eyes believing it would be a type of salvation from the societal ills associated with her dark skinned Black identity. This is not a contest on who is sexually abused more.

This is more about understanding the power dynamics of sexual abuse and how it intersects within racial hierarchies. It deserved a fuller conversation.

4. Who are these people?

Apparently, every person with an agent made it into this film except the leading scholar on the one-drop rule, Yaba Blay. It was as if they carefully avoided her input. And it showed. She was featured on Soledad O’Brien’s Who Is Black In America. You can learn more about Yaba Blay’s work here.

Light Girls turned out to be a mess of a documentary because it was filled with commentary from a slew of third-tier comedians and entertainers. Additionally, the film included remarks from pseudo doctor Farrah Gray. Of course there were also a few notable scholars and commentators. Michaela Angela Davis, Goldie Taylor, Jamilah Lemieux, and Soledad O’Brien were among the slim pickings of truthful and knowledgeable commentary. Yet, by the end of the film, many of them were also tweeting disgust concerning what the film had become. I’m still baffled by Raven Symone’s appearance as well, considering her ideas on “colorless” as a identity.

5. It’s not about jealousy

I shutter at the thought of having to say this but dark skin girls are not all lurking in the bushes waiting to ponce on the nearest light skinned person. This notion is ridiculous but was highly purported throughout the documentary. We’re not all crying in a corner somewhere filled with rage and jealousy. It reasserted the false narrative that all dark skinned girls are unwanted, hateful, mean and violent. The film made it look like we were all derivatives of the boogeyman.

Rarely did the documentary truthfully discuss playground wars and issues of Black children in general calling each other “too Black,” “ugly Africans,” or “high yellow” and using these learned internalized sentiments in hopes of feeling more superior to each other in the face of constant societal dehumanization.

It’s all a part of white supremacy and learned internalized racial hierarchies,  not simplistic hatred or jealousy.

6. Sisterhood Does Exist

There are issues of colorism throughout our society. However, this belief that Black women in predetermined skin-tone categories are genetically predisposed to hate each other is down right preposterous. As I’ve written before, it’s important to remember that there is sisterhood among Black women that has historically been a source of safety and empowerment. It has thrived, even in the midst of racism and colorism. This sisterhood bond continues to be the salvation for many Black women in need of support and love.

7. Colorism cannot be changed through positive thinking

At one point “Dr.” Farrah Gray asserted that light skinned and dark skinned girls simply need to learn to get along and stop “blaming the white man.” Here goes the condescending, “You girls stop fighting,” speech. Other commentators docilely asserted we simply needed to think positive, look in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful.” Then all will be healed. It reduced the entire subject to Black women being just silly or petty, which is not the case.

No pep talk in the world is going to cure colorism. The film put the onus of colorism on the literal and preverbal backs of dark skinned girls. As if to say colorism is a personal problem, not a real systematic lived experience. This teeters along the line of saying racism is simply an imagined Black problem that will go away if we just think happy thoughts and be New Black like Pharrell.

8. In conclusion

To be fair, the film had a few positives. For instance, at one point they tried to present a global perspective of colorism. This is helpful in highlighting the fact that colorism is not just a Black issue. The affects of slavery and colonization have been felt worldwide. Also, a film about how colorism affects light skinned girls is necessary and efforts of the film are appreciated. Still, the film did what most things in mainstream society do. Light Girls continued the devaluation of Black life by oversimplifying key issues and not providing a thorough analysis for deconstructing the core problems…structural racism and patriarchy.

http://ourlegaci.com/2015/01/20/light-girls-when-documentaries-get-it-wrong/
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leslie
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« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2015, 12:06:26 AM »

Against Jessica Ann Mitchell’s well-intentioned advice, I decided to view the Light Girls documentary. Her eight point discussion on the issue are more or less spot on. There are many, many other points of contention in this documentary which would require a very prolonged discussion; a thesis perhaps. However, as much as I take issue with many sentiments expressed in the documentary, I would disagree that it is not worth watching. It is important to understand the varying levels of ignorance that we still have to contend with as well as recognise some points that darker skinned ones should consider in the colourism discussion, even if they are poorly reasoned.

One of the issues I had from the onset was the poor-me-light skin mentality which highlights ignorance of privilege. As a person of darker hue but still quite privileged due to having acquired academic education, being considered brown-skinned by some, longer hair than some, straighter nose than some et cetera, it is frustrating (to say the least) to hear light skinned ones, with their very long hair, hazel, green or blue eyes et cetera play the ultimate victims of colourism. While I am certain that some of them would have experienced jealousy-based ill-treatment, I am also certain that they would have knowingly or subconsciously been aware of being beneficiaries of light-skin privilege. Generally, darker skinned persons who are farther from the idealised white stereotype do not get the same chance of being sexually desired, considered smart and get good employment opportunities. As a matter of fact, many of the interviewees, as one or two admitted may not have reached where they were in their respective fields had it not been due to their light skin.

In terms of sexual abuse, I think it is important to consider the reasons why sexual predators would target light skinned persons. However, as stated in Mitchell’s commentary, there was a serious flaw in the treatment of this subject as it is equally important to discuss why other sexual abusers target dark skinned individuals as well. It is two sides of the same ugly coin which cannot be looked at in I-am-the-main-target terms. While it is true that light skinned ones may be the objects of fantasy and targeted in that regard, dark skinned girls are targeted for a different range of issues. Often predators feel that it is easier to get away with abusing dark skinned ones because they feel that they may be insecure and are less likely to speak out, or think that they are deserving of ill-treatment because they may be considered unattractive and demonised by wider society anyway. It is dangerous to talk about one without the other because people may believe that sexual abuse is perpetrated against one or the other which is entirely untrue. This emphasises that discussions on colourism are important, not just so that we can understand that it is not only one group that is targeted but to understand that abuse manifests in many ways for a range of reasons although it may stem from the same place.  

I also generally agree with Mitchell about the choice of interviewees for the most part although I think their views, as ignorant as they often were, are important because they highlighted a reality that is often glossed over or sugar-coated by academics who tend to prefer political correctness. For example the over-working black female versus the light skin trophy issue that was touched on by some of the male interviewees regarding their choice of mates were critical in tearing apart some of the earlier bogus sentiments by some of the females there who played the victim card, pretending that they are not valued more in the black community. It also emphasised how people make certain choices that on the outside may appear pro-black but still reek of racial prejudice.

One area that I don’t agree with Mitchell’s was her sixth point. I am unaware of a true Sisterhood in the general black community. Just because many of us are considered black (mostly by a poorly-defined American standard) does not mean that we experience the same things, genuinely care about the concerns of others or seek to improve our conduct and treat people based on merit. I do not believe in being in a Sisterhood by default. In fact, most African and African descended people contribute without care or concern to many of the issues discussed. Until people decide to improve their conduct and strive to correct racist and other discriminatory behaviours then I cannot agree with the Sisterhood or Brotherhood concept.

Lastly, one of the glaring issues with the documentary was that it could not commit to its main theme and digressed into long discussions about how colourism affects the dark skin community. Why? Because dark skin ones ARE mostly negatively affected. It is a reality from which we cannot escape and it is quite disingenuous to pretend otherwise. What this documentary highlights is that there is need for more informed discussions by those, not only who experience colourism from all areas of the spectrum but who are actively working on addressing these issues in individual and group levels.

P.S.

While the more common debates on the light skinned and dark skinned ends of the spectrum are important, there needs to be more discussion for people who are not considered light skinned or dark skinned. Although the issue of colourism is already quite complex, the group that exist in this state of in-betweenity, commonly referred to as brown skin, need to be properly situated in the colour hierarchy. As one who is considered brown skin, I am quite aware that I do not experience light skin privilege but equally aware that I do not face the brunt of dark-skin black discrimination. It can be a quite confusing place to be to not claim absolute privilege or absolute disadvantage in the black community, but without the brown-skin contribution, a comprehensive understanding of colour discrimination would be lost. It is especially important also because many brown skinned ones such as Gabrielle Union are often labelled as dark-skin and are viewed as dark skinned beauties. Where does that leave those who are much darker than she? Time to expand the discussion.
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Nakandi
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« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2015, 10:08:44 PM »

To me, the documentary only served to collect wide spread ideas out there. I did not see it as an attempt to deal with the issue of colorism. Thus, the status quo was not challenged as I had hoped.

I agree with leslie on this, "While the more common debates on the light skinned and dark skinned ends of the spectrum are important, there needs to be more discussion for people who are not considered light skinned or dark skinned. Although the issue of colourism is already quite complex, the group that exist in this state of in-betweenity, commonly referred to as brown skin, need to be properly situated in the colour hierarchy... Time to expand the discussion."

People who lie in-between, but categorised as dark skinned can serve to dilute or negate the experience of dark skinned ones. They might not see themselves as dark skinned, but their voices could be taken to represent that experience. This can also be seen on a more global scale where non-African brown people experience racism differently and sometimes reduce the impact of white supremacy on the lives of those darker than them.

Many times brown skinned people are used to substitute the really dark skinned ones as symbols for post racism. Their visibility can be used to deny colorism (usually by the light skinned ones) and silence those demanding for diversity in, usually, the mainstream.

On more individual levels, I have found that darker skinned ones can be quick to accept brown skinned people as dark skinned in attempts to deny their obviously darker complexion. Since some already regard themselves as lighter than they actually are, seeing a person like Gabrielle Union being termed dark skinned helps uphold the delusional gaze.

To expand the conversation even further, does intersectionality play that much of a role in colorism?


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Iniko Ujaama
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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2015, 12:53:36 PM »

The inbetweenity of having brown skin is honestly not something I have given a lot of consideration personally. I do however see how it plays out when issues of colourism and light skin privilege come up(I thinking now of what that means.). I know for instance from childhood that I felt the awareness, more pronounced in particular instances that I was not-as-lightskinned as some others around me and therefore less favoured. I was also aware that I was not the darkest and so would not be the one getting teased about my complexion, teasing which I had the option of participating in. This still manifests in different ways even now. The result is a skewed and subtle sensitivity focused on not being as light and an awareness that this system exists but a subtle fear of the issue being raised from the point of view of the most disadvantaged, darkest ones because it would "overshadow" my sense of victimhood or lack of privilege. Very little room for recognizing the relative privilege we experience.

I think most brownskinned persons have experiences which bring out this particular position. Situations and conversations where colourism or light skinned privilege come up can be in some ways uncomfortable for brownskinned ones in a subtle way. How I know this is the knee jerk response of joining in to add my two cents on either side. A brownskinned person in situations like this have the options of adding their two cents on either side (whether to identify as victim too or to point out the relatively less privilege) or the more difficult one of figuring out where we fit in. The fact that the discussion is often phrased in terms of colourism (which persons tend to think of as actions/ behaviour/ attitudes of one to the next or to others) and less in terms of light skin privilege(a wider system of privilege not restricted simply to action of persons in the here and now), the fact of relative privilege tends not to come up.

As brown skinned ones, not dealing with how we fit into the situation of light skinned privilege we miss a significant aspect of our experience and how we participate within and uphold this system privilege.
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Nakandi
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2015, 11:20:01 PM »

I came across this article written by a brown skinned girl who identifies as dark skinned (in the caption of her picture). I found that it illustrates how brown skinned people can hinder the progression of the colorism conversation.

"With a world so polluted with Western-white beauty ideals, it is hard to always jettison these ridiculous standards of beauty. I get that. Thankfully, my self-esteem has never really suffered because of colorism. I’m not sure if it’s because my parents are foreign and actually cannot even begin to understand the concept of colorism. I actually tried to have a conversation with my mother about it, she concluded that I was making the whole, light-skinned versus dark skinned “divide” up. Or if it’s because I had a father that always told my siblings and me that we were beautiful with my mother in agreement."

http://www.xojane.com/issues/dark-girls-documentary
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